William Mosebach, as a frontline medic of the 2-503rd 173rd Infantry Battalion, entered northern Iraq in 2003 by means of combat jump — a jump from an aircraft with the intent to engage in combat, according to military references — the first and only during the war. He spent the next year fighting with and tending to the wounds of brothers.
“I’ll never forget the day they caught Saddam Hussein hiding in the hole,” Mosebach said in a recent phone interview from his home in West Palm Beach. “I was [in Iraq], and that night, all you could see was tracer rounds in the sky. To celebrate, the locals shot their AKs into the air. It was like the Fourth of July. It was incredible.”
Now back in the United States, Mosebach, 31, plans to tend the wounds of his brothers in a different way. He and his girlfriend, Kristen Creech, will walk nearly 3,000 miles to raise awareness and funds for veterans and military families. They’re starting their long trek on Saturday, Sept. 8, in Calais.
Partnered with the nonprofit Active Heroes, the couple will walk from Maine to Florida on the East Coast Greenway, a route made up of low-traffic roads and off-road multiuse trails. The supporting nonprofit calls the walk a “Hike for Heroes.”
“It’s not about us,” said Mosebach. “We want to make that perfectly clear. The main reason for this hike is to raise awareness for military families.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 18 veterans die by suicide each day. And while only 1 percent of Americans have served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the country, according to a recent report on military suicides by the Center for a New American Security.
“That’s one thing that has really inspired me to do this,” said Mosebach. “I hate to see my own brothers ending their lives. Myself, I have been through my own hard times like that before, and I was lucky to have other people around me to help me. I want to be there to help them in any way I can. When I get done with this hike, this is just the beginning. I want this to be a huge part of my life.”
Mosebach receives compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and programs such as Total Force Fitness also help service members, veterans and families build resilience. But Mosebach is concerned for people who aren’t fortunate enough to receive the services or financial support they need to lead healthy lives.
“We want to do as much fundraising as possible down the East Coast,” Mosebach said. “We’re going to be doing raffles, meeting up with congressmen, mayors, high schools, organizing walks and runs, anything we can think of as a fundraiser to raise money for these families.”
The “Hike for Heroes” Team plans to be in the Bangor area Sept. 18-20, and daily updates and photos will be posted on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HikeForHeroes.org.
Active Heroes will use these funds to help veterans and military families financially through direct payment of bills (mortgage payments, car payments, electricity and water bills). The organization also accepts requests for necessities such as bedding through wish lists.
About five months ago, the couple started brainstorming about getting involved with a charity. It was Creech who found Active Heroes.
“I have had a lot of friends in my life going in and out of the military,” said Creech in a recent press release. “I have said goodbye to some and never got to see them again. I have seen the effects on their families and loved ones. It’s a pain nobody should ever have to go through, and if I’m able to say I have helped, even in a little way, I will walk to the ends of the Earth.”
“She’s always been looking for an opportunity like this, to do something big,” Mosebach said.
“Hike for Heroes” was thought up by Active Heroes founder Troy Yocum, an Army Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who walked 7,880 miles across the U.S. to raise funds to help military families in need from 2010 to 2011. Today, he inspires others to carry the same message on foot.
For Mosebach and Creech, the challenge of long-distance hiking seemed to fit. They had the time and the freedom, though they needed to spend a number of months physically (in the gym) and mentally (with guide books) preparing for the journey.
The couple left their home in West Palm Beach on Thursday to fly to Maine, where they were greeted by Active Heroes volunteers, who put them up for the night.
“This is the very first time we’ve done anything like this together,” said Mosebach. “This is pretty much our first hike.”
The 6- to 7-month journey will be the couple’s first time hiking together, and they’re relieved that they have so much support from Active Heroes volunteers, who have offered to drive them to checkpoints and provide beds and food along the way.
Leading their behind-the-scenes support team is Active Heroes lead volunteer Mike Bowman, who has been driven to spread the word about military families in need ever since his nephew Army Spc. Brian Bowman was killed in action on Jan. 2, 2010, while serving his country in Afghanistan as a medic.
“It’s just amazing how many people are willing to help causes like this,” Mosebach said. “I’ve always been a cynical person until a couple months ago.”
“Now I’m into this, I realize there are so many opportunities to help different causes,” said Mosebach. “If I believe in it, I want to do it. And right now, this is what I believe. When this is over, it could be breast cancer, it could be autism, it could be brain cancer — whatever hits me in the heart, I’ll roll with it.”